2008-07-11 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

The Impact Of The Court's Gun Ban Ruling
Commentary By Howard Schwach

The majority opinion in the recent Supreme Court gun ban ruling shocked many people in New York City, where permission to legally posses a handgun is almost impossible to get and illegal guns can be purchased on many street corners.

Justice Anton Scalia's broad and sweeping decision will not bring an absolute right to possess a weapon of choice, just as the court's freedom of speech rulings do not guarantee an absolute freedom to yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater.

Scalia wrote in the 64-page opinion, "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings."

The ruling also approved the regulation of gun sales and limits on specific classes of weapons such as machine guns and assault rifles.

I am certain that somebody, perhaps an official of the National Rifle Association, will soon sue the City of New York charging that the application process for possessing a handgun in the city is too restrictive and does not allow the majority of people the right to keep a hand gun in the home for self-protection, something that the Supreme Court decision guarantees.

The city now requires people who want to own hand guns to carry or to keep in their homes to get a permit from the NYPD. The requirement for getting a "carry permit" is different from those to get a permit to keep a weapon in the home.

The permits cost $340 for a threeyear period. Those who want a carry permit must prove that they have a legitimate reason to carry a concealed weapon.

Those who want to keep a gun at home must prove that they have a clean record.

That probably won't change much.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that he never wanted to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, only from criminals. The process for getting a permit to keep a legal handgun, however, is draconian and limiting, and it may well be thrown out by the court in light of the court's decision, allowing many more people to get permits to keep a gun at home.

The decision does not impact greatly, however, the right to get a "carry permit" that allows the holder of the permit to carry a weapon in public.

Right now, according to NYPD records, 14,655 people have the residential permit, which allows them to keep a gun at home. A carry license is held by 2,359 residents and 3,284 guard licenses are held by security workers who need their guns for their job.

The right to carry a concealed weapon should remain with police officers and those who genuinely need a weapon for their job.

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly issued a statement after the court's decision was released.

"It remains to be seen what [the court's decision's] ultimate impact is on New York City. We continue our practice to get illegal guns off the street."

The discussion that led to the 5-4 decision was apparently contentious, to use the kind phrase.

Statements made after the decision was released give us a look into the court's discussions and the depth of feeling involved with the issue.

Justice John Paul Stevens, the 88- year-old leader of the court's liberal block, fumed that the decision was a betrayal of the conservative belief in judicial restraint. He accused the majority of casting aside settled law and of plunging the court into a "political thicket."

Those are strong words coming from one Supreme Court justice speaking about another.

Scalia returned fire. He all but said that the liberals have an anti-gun political agenda and that the liberals were seeking "to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct." He claimed in writing that Stevens "flatly misreads the historical record" of the framers' era.

Strong words indeed about another justice.

Even the term "bear arms" in the Second Amendment brought a loud argument from the two justices.

Scalia says that the words, as defined in a 1771 legal dictionary, mean "anything that a man wears for his defense or takes into his hands or uses to strike another."

Stevens, on the other hand, defines the words as "a familiar idiom; when used unadorned by other words, it means to serve as a soldier, to do military service."

You can see the dichotomy between opinions in those words.

Given the fact that the decision has rended the court in two, nearly-equal parts, it should come as no surprise that it has split the city and the nation as well.

And, it has brought out the lunatic fringe on both sides of the issue.

A photograph in the New York Times the day after the decision showed a demonstrator with a sign that read, "If Guns Kill People … Do Pens Misspell Words?"

Placing the use of a gun and the use of a pen in the same sentence is about as lunatic as one can get, in my opin- ion. On the other side, of course, you can find people who want to outlaw guns completely, even for police officers and the military.

The truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

The fact is that over the five year period ending last year, there have been more than 35,000 gun-related deaths a year. Fifty-one percent of those gun deaths were suicides, while forty-four percent were homicides. The others were accidental.

There is little empirical evidence, however, that more gun control means fewer gun deaths, surprising as that may seem.

In Luxembourg, for example, where there are no legal guns allowed, there are still nine gun homicides per 100,000 population.

In Finland, where nearly 40 percent of the people keep guns, the number is about two per 100,000 population.

What does that prove? I'm not sure, but it probably means that it's easier to get an illegal gun in Luxembourg than in Finland.

The New York law seems to have the right balance, but it will be challenged by the NRA nevertheless, perhaps on the issue of the high cost of getting and keeping a permit.

Guns do kill people. We, in Rockaway, know that all too well.

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It appears that going to Far Rockaway and Arverne could be legitimate reasons to carry a concealed weapon.

What would be a nice piece of reporting would be, of all the conceled carry permits that have been issued, how many of those guns were used in a crime by the person with the permit. How many crimes were stopped by these carry permit people? Howard in this day and age we need to let the criminals know that if you want to take a chance and commit a crime that the person next to you might be able to stop you. Criminals know that they have the guns and it appears that they are not afraid to use them.

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